A STAR IS BORN (2018)
PG-13, 135 mins.
2018, PG-13, 135 mins.
Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine / Lady Gaga as Ally / Sam Elliott as Bobby Maine / Dave Chappelle as Noodles / Andrew Dice Clay as Lorenzo / Alec Baldwin as Saturday Night Live Host
Directed by Bradley Cooper / Written by Cooper and Will Fetters
I personally find it so achingly difficult to screen every new remake that sees the cinematic light of day as of late. Unless you have something fresh and revitalizing to bring to the table while maintaining some semblance of faithfulness to the original (my litmus test for good remakes), then what's the point?
And A STAR IS
BORN has certainly been made and remade far more times than I sometimes
can keep track of.
It all started with the 1932 film WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?, which
later begat the 1937 remake A STAR IS BORN, which, in turn, begat the 1954
Judy Garland led remake of the same name and then (catching breath)
ushered in the 1976 rock musical remake featuring Kris Kristofferson and
To say that we've already had plenty of permutations of this story
(one massively successful star starts to fade when another down on their
luck one shows up and begins to succeed) is the grandest of
brings me, obviously enough, to the latest incarnation of this age old
and, to be fair, overdone tale of celebrity culture, this time overseen by
Bradley Cooper (making his feature film directing debut), and right off
the bat it becomes clear that he has ample new tricks up his creative
sleeve to make his A STAR IS BORN simmer with invigorating newness.
That's not to say that Cooper (co-writing the film with Will
Fetters) doesn't pay reasonable homage to his film's multiple antecedents,
because he does stick to the overall narrative formula of what has come
Cooper understands the kitchen sink nature of this underlining
material (the film is simultaneously rags-to-riches coming of age story, a
critique of celebrity culture, a sweeping romance, a substance abuse
melodrama, a cautionary tale of what to do with newfound wealth and fame,
and, ultimately and sadly, a tragedy), but he miraculously and thanklessly
makes all of its divergent pieces flow smoothly together.
Perhaps even better, this A STAR IS BORN doesn't have the color,
sheen, and feel good inspirational gaudiness of other genre pictures: This
one is rough, rugged, gritty, and rawer then what's come before, and it's
that immersive, eavesdropping level of dramatic verisimilitude that
makes his version feel so much more alive and lived-in.
In short, Cooper has made old and stale material feel young again.
That, and A STAR
IS BORN is an absolute embarrassment of performance riches and features
the exceptional one-two performance dynamic between Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga (yeah...that
one, more on her in a bit).
Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a fortysomething country music singer
that has achieved peak popularity in his career.
He still can belt out a tune to capacity crowds of adoring fans,
but, deep down, his heart doesn't seem as into it anymore.
Any amount of on stage passion that he does maintain is all but
eroded the instant he leaves the stage and enters his limo, during which
time he literally bathes himself with booze.
His only meaningful relationship is with a bottle of whiskey, much
to the concerned and mostly angry chagrin of his older brother/campaign
manager Bobby (a never been better Sam Elliott).
Bobby is the only thing that is able to help prop up his alcohol
guzzling and pill popping sibling from being a total media and career
Without him, Jackson would be one step closer to a grave.
drunkenly journeying into a drag bar one fateful night, Jackson locks eyes
with one of the establishment's performing acts, Ally (Gaga), whose angelic voice
and tremendous presence ignites both a romantic and career fire
Beyond singing and writing, Ally is a near poverty stricken waitress
supporting herself and her father (an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay)
and, as a polar opposite extreme of her stage work, seems shy,
introverted, and unsure of herself.
Jackson thinks, of course, that she's a knockout and brilliant musician, leaving her both flattered and somewhat
The pair begin a relationship that culminates with Jackson
improvising one night by inviting Ally on stage.
After processing her initial fears, she joins him, wins over the
audience with her magnificent vocal range, and soon accompanies Jackson on tour.
She becomes an overnight sensation and break out hit, whereas her
boyfriend in Jackson only further succumbs to his addictive ways and sees
his star plummet.
The central story
arcs of A STAR IS BORN are, as stated, predictable and routine on paper,
but Cooper as a director finds a new lease on this browbeaten subject matter
by utilizing an in the trenches style that makes the film feel
grounded and authentically drawn.
The concert scenes in particular have a level of you-are-there
veracity that helps cement viewers into the later painful story of
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique has a loose, free wheeling, yet
beguiling quality that helps segregate this A STAR IS BORN well apart from
those before it.
Of course, the film is littered with memorable songs as well (mostly
written by Cooper and Gaga) that are all sensationally realized and
touchingly sung (Gaga certainly doesn't have anything to prove as a
singer, but Cooper himself is the surprising standout here; he's rock
solid and always believable as his country star legend).
are key, and Cooper (a reliably stalwart actor already) is show stoppingly
fantastic as his once musical superstar that - when not battling chronic
drunkenness - can still wow audiences with passionate performances.
With a low registering vocal timber (that sort of mimics that of
co-star Sam Elliott), it would be easy to mislabel Cooper's work her as
distractingly mannered, but there's a lot more going on here beneath the
surface as he has to suggest a man that's still a supremely confident
musician that frankly has had all joy sucked out of his body and life by
his self abusing behavior.
Cooper has an unlimited amount of electrifying chemistry with Gaga, and watching
the two actors feed off of one another and build up each other's
characters in the process is one of A STAR IS BORN's many graces.
I'm usually in a suspicious frame of mind when I hear musicians
trying their hand at acting, but there's simply no denying that Gaga's
star making turn here will probably net her a much deserved Oscar
She brings the fiery passion to the film's songs (again, hardly
unexpected), but I was more taken in with how consummately dialed in and
restrained her tricky performance was, suggesting an introverted and
of supreme self doubt and loathing that finds it within herself to
become a somebody.
She's the emotional glue of this film.
gives a democratic amount of time to the supporting characters and side
relationships that typify an already solid pairing of himself with Gaga.
I especially appreciated Ally's endearing bond with her
inordinately proud father, and the fact that any film could make me forget
that I was watching Andrew Dice Clay and allowed for him to give a
genuinely realized and full bodied performance of his own is to its
You really gain a sense that this father is living wholeheartedly
and vicariously through his daughter's meteoric success.
Perhaps the best and most heartbreaking tandem in the film belongs
to Jackson and his beleaguered brother, and Elliott - the wise industry
veteran - nearly hijacks the film from everyone else around him in the
manner that he sells this poor soul being broken down from the inside out
by Jackson's complete unwillingness to seek the help he needs.
But he's no weeping victim on the sidelines and in the shadow of
his brother's success; Bobby is an aggressively and angrily frank presence
in Jackson's entourage that's not afraid to tell him that he's sick and
tired of his toxic behavior.
There's one small and unassuming scene - showing Bobby dropping his
brother off and then backing out of his driveway - that shows Elliott's
remarkable range at showing his character's lifetime worth of regret
without any dialogue and all in his saddened eyes.
If there were an
element that doesn't work very well here then it's the three way
relationship that develops in the late stages of the film between Jackson,
Ally and her well meaning, but career domineering manager (Rafi Gavron)
that seems to chug by a bit too much on perfunctory autopilot for my
It's a minor quibble, because A STAR IS BORN still manages to be a
compelling - if not ironic - take on the modern social media led celebrity
juggernaut, where literally everything a star says or does has to be
micromanaged for the purposes of minimizing future damage control.
Ally's transformation from a somewhat simple auburn haired
performer with a grand voice and into a lavishly costumed mega star replete
with flashy dancers whose movements with her are meticulously
choreographed is pretty meta, in hindsight.
Witnessing Gaga transform herself in the process of taking this
role - sort of deglaming herself to fully inhabit that mind, body, and
spirit of Ally - is almost the polar opposite of Ally's arc in the film.
It's an endlessly captivating juxtaposition, seeing as Gaga herself
is part of the vast and deeply cynical industry that chews up and spits
out stars in an instant that allows for Ally's success.
A STAR IS BORN is not only one of the great modern remakes, but also rather unexpectedly one of 2018's finest films. Cooper persuasively hones in on the fragile and flawed nature of his characters, to the point where you find yourself easily invested in them while feeling great empathy for these damaged people, despite them being massively popular celebrities. And the whole enterprise, as a direct result, builds towards its three-hanky conclusion without feeling like it manipulatively pulled tears out of our eyes; this film earns its heartbreak. And in many ways, A STAR IS BORN is a breakout effort for Cooper as a director and Gaga as an actress to stand up and take notice of. With both of them triumphantly sharing the screen together in one of the more unlikely star unions in many a moon - and utterly carrying the film they occupy and taking a clichéd Hollywood tale and making it simmer with renewed interest - I was reminded that sometimes the best films are ones that sneak up and surprise you beyond your modest expectations of them.
MY CTV REVIEW: